Thursday , 3 December 2020
Scuderia Ferrari S.p.A

Why an Imola return might be great for F1

Formula 1’s 2020 calendar was supposed to be its most diverse, its longest and most extensive – travelling to an all-new street circuit at Hanoi, as well as a revamped tight and twisty Zandvoort – a circuit with plenty of F1 heritage. Due to the unforeseen circumstances that have affected the globe, those events are set to not happen in 2020.

F1’s calendar this year is not without its uniqueness, though. Doubleheaders at circuits are dotted around the place, making the Red Bull Ring the first venue to host two F1 races in a year since Brands Hatch in 1983. Never, however, has a venue hosted two rounds of a world championship season.

As F1 has scrambled to try and muster together some form of a tangible calendar, several venues that have not tasted F1 action for many years have popped into the limelight – including the famous Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari at Imola.

Imola has a long-yet-clouded history with F1. First hosting a non-championship race in the 1960s, it hosted the Dino Ferrari GP in 1979 with a view to hosting a world championship race a year later. After Monza dropped off the calendar (for a single year), it was home to the Italian Grand Prix. A year after, it took the title of the San Marino GP every year until 2006.

The original, pre-1972, circuit was mightily fast – not truncated by the chicanes the circuit was lamented for in later years. Corners such as Tamburello, the turn later named Villeneuve, Piratella and Acque Minerale became revered for their challenges. There was little time to rest, with straights that were hardly straight, and the only slow corners being the Tosa hairpin and the double-apexed Rivazza complex.

The chicanes came over time, the first (double chicane) coming at Variante Bassa before the start line. Variante Alta followed a year later before the Acque Minerale right-left-right one appeared ahead of the inaugural San Marino GP. After the well-documented events of the 1994 event, the iconic Tamburello and Villeneuve turns suffered the same fate.

There were other changes made too – Variante Bassa became a single chicane, while the Acque Minerale complex was altered and its chicane scrapped. In its later years in F1, the circuit became notoriously difficult to pass on – although this prompted some races at the circuit that went down in memory.

A supreme defensive display by Fernando Alonso at the 2005 race – where he fended off everything Michael Schumacher (who started 13th) could throw at him – goes down as one of the Spaniard’s finest moments in F1. The roles were reversed a year later, with Schumacher on top by fractions of a second from Alonso. 2004 featured a brilliant charge from Kimi Raikkonen who started last to finish in the points despite an inadequate McLaren.

So, with F1 cars that are wider now, and arguably harder to follow in, why would Imola make for a good race?

The circuit has changed slightly, but significantly, since 2006. The run between Rivazza 2 and Tamburello is no longer truncated by a chicane, making it a lengthy flat-out run down to the first corner on the circuit. The chicane at Variante Alta has also been tightened, making it easier to follow through down to Rivazza 1. These two sections, as well as potentially the runs between Tamburello and Villeneuve, or between Acque Minerale and Variante Alta, would make for adequate DRS zones.

DRS has definitely been a contentious subject for myself at least, but there is no denying that it is more often than not beneficial at circuits which have proven to be difficult to overtake at. The Hungaroring is one such venue, and DRS has certainly helped turn races into thrillers there in recent years. We have no way to tell what effect this would have on Imola, but the benefits would likely outweigh the drawbacks in this scenario.

The circuit was and remains narrow but, it is hardly Monaco or Baku’s castle section. The cars are no wider now than what they were pre-1998 and there was overtaking taking place in that era even without artificial aids. They will be wide enough to overtake – just. If that means drivers have to get a little bit creative to make a pass, then that is surely only a good thing.

Some recent re-additions to the F1 calendar have gone down well. The Red Bull Ring has been a welcome return and is now a mainstay and a must-visit venue. The same can be said of Mexico City. (Let us not mention Paul Ricard.) Imola’s return, if it happens, as a one-off could prove to be another welcome return, and a second round in Italy may just become the normality once again.

It would be a great circuit to have on the calendar once more.

About Craig Woollard

Motorsport historian and journalist Craig Woollard has had an unusual path to a career in motorsport. After graduating from the University of Essex with a degree in mathematics in 2013, he changed his career path immediately after discovering a talent for writing. After occasional freelance work in 2015 and 2016, he joined the Autosport Academy for 2017. In the same year, he became an archive digitiser at Motorsport Images - which is his full-time job to this date.

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